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How to Elope in Virginia: The Ultimate Elopement Checklist

Updated for 2021!

Are you considering eloping in Virginia? Never fear! You just found the ultimate guide and elopement checklist for your Virginia elopement!

The events of 2020 have seriously changed the Wedding landscape around the world, and more and more couples are choosing to elope or have a small wedding instead of hosting a big, traditional wedding.

However, because of the long history of shame and misunderstanding surrounding elopements, not many people know how to elope.

  • Is it legal?
  • How much does it cost to elope?
  • Who can officiate?
  • Do you need witnesses?

Don’t worry, it is a whole lot easier to elope in Virginia than you may think! 

Here is a step-by-step elopement checklist including links to all of the official websites, the fees for each step of the process, as well as some additional tips, and links to some of the coolest accommodations in the state for your elopement getaway!

How To Elope In Virginia: The Checklist

1. Choose Your Location

Choosing your location might be the hardest part of the whole process! With so many different landscapes and locations to choose from, it can be hard to choose. Luckily, there’s a complete guide to the best places to elope in Virginia, whether you’re into mountain vistas or long walks on sandy beaches.

When trying to decide on an elopement location, think about places or activities that are meaningful to the two of you. 

Was your first date on the boardwalk at Virginia Beach? 

Do you love to stroll through Washington D.C. checking out the Smithsonian museums and stuffing yourselves full of delicious, greasy street food? 

Do you often dream about running away to the mountains together, living in a little ramshackle shed, and subsisting on nuts and berries? 

Wherever you decide to elope, it should be a place where you will truly enjoy spending time together, and not just somewhere you think will look good in photos. Your elopement day is about so much more than just pretty photographs.

One thing to consider when choosing where to elope is the cost of wedding and photography permits in some parks. It varies from park to park, but in Virginia, you can usually elope in a state or national park for $200 or less, unless you plan on bringing a group of family and friends.

2. Choose Your Date

When it comes to eloping in Virginia, not all dates are created equal. 

Things to consider when choosing your Virginia elopement date:

Weekdays vs. Weekends

The main reason why most bigger, traditional weddings happen on weekends is that there are usually 100+ guests who will need to get off work, travel to the venue, sleep off their hangovers, and get back to work on Monday morning.

However, with an elopement, even if you are eloping with a small group of loved ones, you often don’t need so much buffer time.

Eloping on a weekday is a great option for several reasons:
  • Parks, beaches, and public spaces will be less crowded.
  • You will often get better prices or better availability from your favorite wedding vendors on weekdays

  • You still have the weekend to have a small celebration with family and friends, if you’d like to, while still being able to take a couple of days to yourselves.

Seasons

In Virginia, we have mild but wet winters and hot, sticky summers. In fact, you would really be best served by pretending that July and August simply don’t exist when thinking about dates for your elopement. 

Midsummer is the height of tourist season, Interstate 95 will be a parking lot as tourists travel throughout the state, the beaches and parks will be packed, and hotels and Air BnBs will be more expensive during those “prime dates.”

Additionally, assuming that you’re planning to spend a good portion of your elopement outside, July and August will be uncomfortable at best and dangerous at worst. Dehydration and heat stroke are no joke, and sweat stains and wet, sweaty hair are harder to edit out of photographs than you might think. 

Opt For Spring Or Fall

If you’re looking for milder, more comfortable weather, plan for late March to about mid-June or September through mid-November. In the spring months, you’ll get wildflowers and that bright, almost fluorescent green of new foliage, and in the fall you’ll get the famous Virginia color show as the leaves change. 

Daylight

If you’re not eloping in the summer, the amount of daylight is another thing to consider.

If you have a day full of things you’d like to do, consider exchanging vows early in the morning or at sunset — you’ll catch the beautiful light, and still have several hours either before or after to spend your day together. Work with your photographer to put together a timeline for your elopement that is perfect for you. 

Vendor Availability

If you have your heart set on working with certain vendors, you should definitely check with them about their availability before deciding on a date for your virginia elopement.

You could narrow your date options down to 5 or 10 and then check with your vendors about their availability on those dates. With any luck, you’ll be able to find one that works for everyone. 

3. Decide How You Want To Make It Legal

Once you have your date picked out, your next step is to decide how you want to go about the legal process of getting married.

Most couples who elope in Virginia will go about it one of two ways:

  • Have an officiant perform the marriage on the scheduled elopement day
  • Get legally “courthouse married” on a different day, but have the scheduled elopement day be a celebration of their commitment to each other. 

Some couples consider their elopement date to be their anniversary, and some couples celebrate the day they were legally married. It’s up to you!

If you want to have the official marriage ceremony performed on your elopement day, the next decision is whether you want someone like a minister or pastor to perform the marriage, or whether you want a loved one to perform the ceremony.

Virginia is one of the few states that rarely (almost never) recognizes online ordinations, such as from the Universal Life Church, and so the best option is to have your officiant authorized to perform your wedding ceremony as a “civil celebrant.”

Getting A Loved one approved as a civil celebrant

The process to become a civil celebrant isn’t terribly difficult, but it can be convoluted and time-consuming, and so you should allow a few months for your loved one to complete the process.

Civil celebrants must be residents of the state in which they will be performing the ceremony, so pick a friend who is a Virginia resident. They must also not be a convicted felon.

What They Have To Do

The first step is for them to visit the circuit court in the city or county where they live, and speak to a clerk about filing a petition for a one-time authorization as a wedding celebrant

If your friend is very lucky, they might get a clear and helpful answer from the clerk of the court about what exactly is required from there.

If your friend is like many folks who go through this process, they will likely get some confusing misinformation from the clerk and may have to call someone else or return to the court another day.

The magic words for them to say are, “I wish to file a petition for a one-time authorization as a wedding celebrant.” Within a few tries, they should end up speaking with someone who can help. 

From there, they will have to file a written petition (letter) with the court, which will have to be approved by a judge, which may or may not require them to appear in court, depending on their locality.

What They Have to Pay

There will be a filing fee of approximately $50, and they will probably have to pay a refundable $500 bond to ensure that they “faithfully perform their duty” as a wedding celebrant. 

Take care of the legal stuff on a different day

Many eloping couples will choose to simply take care of the legalities by getting “courthouse married” on a separate day, to spare themselves and their loved ones the headache.

You can still choose to have a loved one join you and perform a ceremony or give a reading on your elopement day if you’d like!

4. Plan Your Day

This is the fun part of the planning process! Work with your photographer to build a timeline for your elopement day.

Do you want to go for a hike?

Spend the day at the beach?

City Hall then dinner?

Your elopement day can be anything you want! 

When putting together you elopement day timeline, it’s important to build in buffer time, especially if you’ll be going to more than one location.

The universal law of wedding days states that there will be traffic, someone will spill something, or someone will have forgotten something important.

Or maybe you’ll get lucky, and you’ll end up at an amazing spot at just the right time so catch some cool lighting and want to hang out a little longer to enjoy it!

Building in buffer time allows you to take the day as it comes, instead of stressing about your schedule.

5. Book Your Accommodations

Once you know your date, and where you want to elope, it’s time to book your accommodations!

Some local couples will choose to skip this step and get ready at home and then go back home at the end of the day. However, one reason to consider booking somewhere to stay is so you don’t have to make your house picture-perfect! 

Your getting ready photos can be taken in a clean, bright, stylish place without you having to lift a finger. Also, the fact that you are eloping instead of having a big wedding doesn’t make your day any less valuable or significant. You deserve to have a relaxing getaway. 

You will want to book your accommodations soon after your date is set. Virginia is home to some incredibly cool Air BnBs and relaxing retreats, but the good ones tend to book up fast. 

Here are some examples of cool places to stay in Virginia for your Elopement:

A quaint A-frame cottage in the woods in Gordonsville, VA

A luxury Yurt with a hot tub in the Blue Ridge Mountains

A stylish treehouse just outside Shenandoah National Park

A bright and modern cabin in the mountains

A high-end tugboat. Yes, tugboat.

An upscale tiny house in the forest

A moody, luxury townhouse in the heart of Richmond, VA

Air BnB’s curated list of the best places to stay in Virginia

6. Curate Your Wedding Day Details

Whether you want a killer bouquet, the perfect vintage hiking boots, or an antique rug to stand on to say your vows, give yourself time to carefully and intentionally choose the details that will be a part of your wedding day. 

7. Obtain A Marriage License

A month or so before your wedding date, you’ll want to make a plan to get your Marriage License.

Marriage licenses in Virginia are only valid for 60 days, but can be used the same day you apply, so this is one part of the elopement process that you don’t want to knock out early.

How to get a marriage license in Virginia

Gather Your Documents

Make sure you have your certified birth certificate, not a copy. If you don’t, contact The Division of Vital Records and get a new certified copy for $12.

You will also need valid photo identification, such as your driver’s license, passport, or military ID. If either partner is divorced, you’ll need to provide the date of the final divorce decree.

And both partners will need to provide the full names of both of their parents, including mother’s maiden name if applicable. No blood test is required in Virginia.

Go to a Circuit Court Clerk’s office in Virginia

Tell the clerk that you are there to get a Marriage License, and provide them with the documents and information listed above.

There will be a $30 fee for the marriage license, plus an optional $2.50 if you want a certified copy for yourselves. Some courts will accept credit or debit cards, but they often have trouble keeping their card readers online, and so you should plan to be able to pay in cash.

You’ll walk out of the office with the paperwork you need (no waiting for them to mail you anything) and there is no waiting period. Your marriage license can be used immediately.

8. Elope!

It’s the day you’ve been planning for! You’ve done all the careful planning and curation ahead of time, so wake up slow, have a cup of coffee in your yurt, and enjoy your day exactly the way you want to. 

Things to know about getting married in Virginia:

Same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states, and you can not be denied a marriage license on the basis of your sexual orientation or gender. 

You do not need to have witnesses present to sign your marriage license. Only your officiant signs the license, and then they must send it back to the clerk of the court within 5 days. 

If you or your partner (or both!) have decided to change your name after your wedding, you will need to contact the social security administration to get a corrected social security card, and then go to the DMV to change your name on your driver’s license.

Additional Resources for Eloping in Virginia:

Detailed Information on Marriage Licenses and Wedding Celebrants from the Richmond, Virginia Circuit Court

Example Marriage License Application worksheet from the Richmond, Virginia Circuit Court

Worried that you might regret your decision to elope down the road? Check this out.


Where to Elope in Virginia

When it comes to elopement destinations, Virginia may not immediately come to mind.

But with its great collection of State and National parks, and the variety of landscapes to be found within the state, Virginia is slowly working its way up the list of the best places to elope in the United States!

The possibilities are nearly endless, but here are some of the top places to elope in Virginia!

1. Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park is a goldmine of beautiful, secluded spots and a wide variety of scenery.

Whether you’re looking for a field of wildflowers, a dramatic waterfall, or a 360-degree mountain top view, Shenandoah National Park is home to some of my favorite elopement locations in Virginia!

Big Meadows

Big Meadows is a huge field of native grasses and wildflowers right in the middle of Shenandoah National Park.

In addition to the beautiful scenery, Big Meadows is right across Skyline Drive from a campground, lodge, visitor center, and store. The location makes it a very convenient place for meeting your guests and spending the weekend enjoying the park. 

Little Stony Man Loop

Little Stony Man Loop is one of the best easy hikes on Skyline Drive and is a beautiful spot for an elopement. With mountaintop views and seasonal wildflowers at the end of a relatively short, easy hike, this is a great location for an elopement with a small side of adventure!

Check out this Stony Man Adventure Session!

Skyline Drive Overlooks

Skyline Drive, the main road through Shenandoah National Park, is peppered with man-made overlooks, cleared to allow drivers and park visitors to experience the amazing views without having to hike for them. 

Many of these overlooks are home to beautiful rock formations, wildflowers, and stunning vistas, making these overlooks the perfect location for a drive-up, easy-access elopement. 

See some of my favorite Skyline Drive Overlooks for Elopements!

2. Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway is the southern sister of Shenandoah National Park. Spanning from Virginia to North Carolina, the Blue Ridge Parkway is full of beautiful trails and overlooks of its own! 

3. Grayson Highlands State Park

Grayson Highlands State Park in southwest Virginia is a beautiful mountain park not far from the North Carolina border.

In addition to incredible views and convenient camping and activities, Grayson Highlands State Park is also home to a herd of wild ponies, making it a truly unique and exciting elopement location!

Check out some photos from a recent elopement at Grayson Highlands State Park, and learn more about why it’s the best place to elope in the Blue Ridge Mountains!

4. Northern Virginia

If you’re looking to escape the city for your elopement, there are several remarkable elopement locations a short drive from Washington, DC!

Sky Meadows State Park

Sky Meadows State Park is home to rolling pastures and mountain views, making it a unique location for catching the sunset over the Blue Ridge Mountains.

It’s also a great option for those who want the mountains in the background without having to drive or hike in the mountains themselves!

Great Falls Park

Great Falls Park, just outside of Washington, DC, is truly a national treasure. Giant boulders and rock formations in the Potomac River create views that take your breath away. 

The rocks and rapids make for dramatic photos, a great sense of adventure, and a fun metaphor for marriage, if you’re into metaphors.

Prince William Forest Park

Prince William Forest Park is located near Quantico, Virginia, not far from Interstate 95, but inside the park you feel as though you are in the middle of nowhere. 

The park is peppered with summer camps you can rent and great hiking trails, making it a great location for a weekend-long celebration with your nearest and dearest.

There is also a dammed-up river in the park, which creates a fun waterfall!

Check out this wedding at Prince William Forest Park.

5. Richmond, Virginia

There are so many great places to elope in Richmond, Virginia. Whether you’re looking for that city feel or lush forest wedding vibes, Richmond has the elopement location for you!

Check out my favorite Richmond locations for outdoorsy couples!

The Poe Museum

A Richmond classic, The Poe Museum is the perfect place for a small wedding or elopement.

The Museum’s small garden courtyard is beautiful and secluded but close to Richmond’s best bars and restaurants. 

The Buttermilk Trail

The Buttermilk Trail is a popular hiking trail that meanders along the south bank of the James River.

The trail is full of hidden forest coves and lush greenery that make this the perfect elopement location for anyone looking to be surrounded by nature on their wedding day without ever having to leave city limits. 

Belle Isle

Belle Isle is an iconic Richmond location featuring everything from waterfront vistas, lush meadows, a forest, and industrial ruins.

The island can be accessed from downtown Richmond by a suspended pedestrian bridge and is the perfect elopement location. 

Libby Hill Park

Libby Hill Park is another iconic location in Richmond, Virginia.

Known for its incredible views of the Richmond skyline and close proximity to all of the incredible restaurants in Richmond’s Church Hill neighborhood, Libby Hill Park is a great place for a small wedding ceremony or elopement in Richmond.

6. Coastal Virginia

If mountains aren’t your thing, Virginia is also home to some amazing little beaches and coastal landscapes. Plus, beach weddings aren’t just for the summertime! Beaches make great places to elope in the fall and winter too, with far fewer people on the beach and some amazingly dramatic skies. 

On the east coast, sunrise is prime time for a dreamy, private beach wedding. 

Sandbridge Beach

Sandbridge Beach is a few minutes south of Virginia Beach, but it has a completely different vibe.

With no boardwalk or souvenir shops, and limited public beach access, Sandbridge feels much more intimate, making it an excellent place to elope in Virginia! 

The beach is lined with houses, some of which are available to rent and can sleep upwards of a dozen people.

If you’d like to celebrate your elopement by spending a few days at the beach with a select group of family and friends, Sandbridge Beach might be the perfect spot for your Virginia elopement.

First Landing State Park

First Landing State Park is just a short drive from Virginia Beach and is home to some of the prettiest bald cypress marshes in the country.

In addition to the picturesque cypress, First Landing State Park is also full of beautiful wooded trails, secluded little riverside beaches, and a forest full of trees just dripping in Spanish moss. 

First Landing State Park would be an ideal location for a totally unique, private elopement. 

Cape Henry

Cape Henry is on the eastern shore of Virginia and seems like a little beach town out of a storybook. The beaches in Cape Henry are narrow, with the treeline coming right up to the beach in places, creating a unique and interesting vibe.

You are also much less likely to have to deal with crowds or shirtless beachgoers photobombing your wedding photos.

Meet The Author

Leah is a born and raised Virginian, and an elopement photographer! She’s also a trained social scientist, and so she’s a little obsessive about doing her research…

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28 Comments

  1. Wow this is an insanely helpful guide about how to elope in west virginia, and also–in general! I love the you included cool places to stay, to really add to the elopement experience!!

  2. Wow, so much valuable info in this post! I had never thought of incorporating a trip to DC into a Virginia elopement, but it’s genius! Also having all the insight as to how to get a friend or family member officiated so they can perform the ceremony is so helpful because other online information can be so confusing. Awesome job!

  3. SUCH a helpful guide!! I actually lived in Virginia for a little while when I was younger but you’ve put a whole new perspective & experience to the space that now I want to go back & visit with fresh eyes. Any couple who wants to elope here is going to find themselves in good hands with you!

  4. This was so much fun to read and so helpful! I seriously laughed out loud a few times…" pretend that July and August don’t exist" and "The universal law of weddings states…" haha. I didn’t know you needed a civil celebrant to get married in Virginia! But at least you don’t have to have witnesses. There are so many cool places to stay there, thanks for linking out to all the awesome options and providing so much detail!

  5. Oh my gosh! I almost road tripped to Virginia with my Grams. I decided to postpone until I found out more information about visiting Virginia and this was a very helpful resource. I didn’t picture this for Virginia, but mind is blown and totally changed now! Great blog post!!

  6. This is amazing- SO jam-packed with SO many details! The thought of eloping can be overwhelming when you don’t know where to start. But man oh man, you hit every single nail on the head. Thank you so much for taking the time to create such a thoughtful, step by step guide!

  7. This is an awesome guide to eloping in Virginia! Also, I had no idea how beautiful Virginia is, definitely adding it to my bucket list!

  8. Wow, this is so comprehensive! What a great resource for couples wanting to elope in Virginia. Super informative post 🙂

  9. So many great tips and the entire elopement process so beautifully explained! West Virginia has so much to offer!

  10. WOW this is such a helpful and comprehensive guide to eloping in Virginia. With 2020 being what it is, I can imagine so many couples will find this so incredibly helpful!

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